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It’s Recycling Week! While sorting your rubbish and rinsing your yoghurt containers may not sound thrilling to adults, kids are intrinsically interested in recycling. Whether it’s the innate satisfaction that comes from sorting, a fascination in the life cycle of just about everything or a feeling of ‘doing the right thing’, recycling is also a great opportunity to harness this enthusiasm for discussions about the world, geography, engineering, and STEM, all the while collecting materials for creative projects. This week on School Stream, we explore four reasons to get excited about recycling.

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Recycling. There’s a lot to talk about

Recycling is a content-rich topic that offers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to education. Let’s explore how the topic of recycling is a gateway to learning, can generate good PR for your school, encourages community-building, and prepares students for the future of work.   

1. Recycling and the Curriculum

Recycling is a jump-off point for discussion and projects across the entire curriculum for all age groups. There are loads of resources online on the National Recycling Week website, all with curriculum mapping provided. Many of the activities are based on real-world scenarios and are therefore super-engaging. For example, Obsolescence or Opportunity is an activity for Year 7-8s that asks students to analyse a product they or someone in their family has purchased through the lens of ‘forced obsolescence’, and then recreate it using sustainable design parameters. This single activity hits on Economics and Business, Design and Technologies and incorporates 21st Century skills too. There’s also plenty on offer for younger students, with activities like From History to Our Classroom, which asks Year 2 students to identify how they deal with waste compared to generations before them. If it’s a literacy-based activity you’re looking for, there are loads of resources online with curriculum-aligned strategies about how to use recycling as a prompt for writing. 

2. There are endless ways to get creative with recycling

We all know creative projects frequently employ recyclable items as zero-cost resources for projects. While these kinds of activities are hands-on and are focused on upcycling or repurposing, these projects can be a great way to encourage thinking about using what we have around us to solve problems or create something new. There are so many recycling projects online, but the following two are a great place to start. 

  • Bird feeders are a big-impact, zero-resource activity that requires only an empty milk container or soft drink bottle, a string for hanging and a perch for birds.
  • We’ve all seen students get stuck into building marble runs with little more than a box, toilet rolls, cardboard, blue tack and some tape. Engineering! Creativity! Physics! Marble runs tick all these boxes and are a collaborative project to boot.   

3. The future of work is green

The rise of green jobs is set to be a major employment trend, with the International Labour Organisation (UN) predicting that the greening of the economy will create 24 million additional jobs by 2030. So with this in mind, anything we can do to get students excited and interested in the skills required to perform ‘green’ jobs seems like a good idea. Recycling is an ideal basis from which to learn about sustainability, science, engineering, ecology, critical thinking, problem-finding/solving and more. There is something for everyone in some of the roles we will see more of, such as urban farming, renewable energy engineering, a recycler in the circular economy and eco-building. 

4. What does saving money, building community and good PR have in common?

Finally, recycling can help save money, promote community building and generate goodwill and a positive image in the community for schools. If this feels like a stretch, data shows that recycling is more cost-effective than waste, and student-driven, sustainability projects are an attractive quality to the parents of prospective students. If we think about food waste, (and we all know how many half-eaten lunches find their way into the bin), schools are now introducing compost programs and worm farms that take care of food scraps. When students are allocated jobs to collect green waste, turn the compost bin or monitor the worm farm, they are more likely to feel collective ownership of the project and thus ensure its success.

Happy National Recycling Week!

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